Skip to main content

Full text of "Aaron Swartz Memorial NYC - January 19th, 2013"

See other formats

Aaron Swartz Public Memorial 

Great Hall, Cooper Union, New York, NY 
January 19th, 2013 

WIKLER: In this country's long procession of struggles for freedom and social justice, 
this hall is sacred space. It was in this hall that the NAACP held its first public 
meeting. This hall — Cooper Union's Great Hall — echoed with the voices of 
women's suffrage leaders, civil rights leaders, workers' rights organizers. In 
1860, a young Abraham Lincoln came here to give the speech of his political 
life to that date — a speech against the expansion of slavery, where he said, 
"Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end 
dare to do our duty as we understand it." Aaron lived his short and enormous 
life to the echo and to the rhythm of those words, and we're gathered here 
today to remember that life, to commemorate his spirit, to honor his legacy, 
and to reflect on the challenges that he left us. And to silence our cellphones, 
(murmurs of laughter) 

I'm Ben Wikler; I was a friend of Aaron's; I got to know him in a much less 
august setting. We had offices next to each other in a former fraternity house 
in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was being rented out in rooms to progressive 
activists, and we got to know each other because the wall adjoining our rooms 
had a huge hole in it. (laughter) So he could hear my voice as I was on 
conference calls. I could hear how fast he typed. We were both intrigued. And 
we introduced ourselves to each other and started talking and discovered — I, 
first of all, discovered he knew more about my field and my work than I knew 
about his and, secondly, that he knew more about it than I knew about mine, 
(laughter) Which was a common thing for Aaron when talking to people about 

But what I loved about Aaron was not only his incredible dedication, his 
incredible brilliance — also, how much fun he was. We constantly had 
ridiculous adventures, like when we tried to go see Avatar at an IMAX theater 
— it was sold out. We wound up in a trapeze gym, flying around and sending 
cellphone videos to my wife, who was extremely alarmed at the turn of events, 

Aaron had a willingness and an excitement to do whatever seemed like the 
right thing to do. And we're going to hear today from friends and 
collaborators and allies from all different parts of his life. He started in this 
work very young. We're also going to — we heard, as we entered, a little bit of 

music that he loved — he loved Pete Seeger, both his music and his legacy. 
And in a moment, I'm going to invite Pete Seeger' s grandson to read a quick 
note that Pete Seeger sent. He wasn't able to join us today. We'll also hear 
from another musician, from OK Go — Damian Kulash. There are many people 
who wish they could be here with us . There are some people who are here 
virtually; this is streaming online at Democracy Now! — you can get there 

And before we start, I'd like to say thank-you to a bunch of people who've 
helped make this happen. First, to the team at ThoughtWorks — to Roy 
Singham, to Holly Webb, to Shawn McGee, to Brian Guthrie, and everyone at 
ThoughtWorks, who sponsored this — Aaron was working at ThoughtWorks. 
They'd given him a team of amazing engineers to build, essentially, whatever 
he wanted, to help activists around the world, and that's what he was doing for 
the last year before his death. So, thanks to them. 

Thanks to Julia at Democracy Now!. Thanks to Anthony Mercurio, to Charles 
Fuhrman, to Paul [Ferris], [Ruan] Al-Haddad. To Joley [McFee] , Nick 
[Alardise], [Verhan Cordeus], [Miha Sifrey] , Zephyr Teachout — everyone who 
helped make this possible. To everyone at Sum Of Us, and to Taren 
Stinebrickner-Kauffman. Also to the Baffler, to John Summers, who found the 
quote that you'll find in the program. A huge number of people were running 
through all the amazing things that Aaron said. There's no single quote of his 
that does him justice. But there's so much that he lived for that we'll be 
remembering today. Thanks also to Beth Wikler and Matt Wikler, my baby 
son, who might be making himself heard during this event. To Shelly 
[Darden], to Deepak Gupta, and all the friends who have come around Aaron's 
friends and family in these incredibly hard days after his death. 

One friend of Aaron's who wasn't able to be here is Larry Lessig. Larry went to 
the funeral on his son's birthday, and it's his son's birthday party today. And 
at a time like this, you need to be with your family. But he sent these — these 

"There are no words for this sadness. Tears were made for this. Silent tears, 
ferocious hugs; words remain for happier things, for the world he wanted, for 
the world he helped to build. Let us save our words for this — for the ways we 
will make the world he needed, for the ways we will guarantee the justice he 
was denied. He lives with us, always. He inspires us forever. Let us never 
forget who he was, and let us not let him down, again." 

Before I invite our first speaker, Doc Searles, to speak, I'd also like to ask 
Kitama Jackson to come and bring the words of Pete Seeger, who sent a note. 

JACKSON: My grandfather, Pete Seeger, was very . . . was very saddened to hear about 
Aaron. I spoke with him this morning; he was sorry that he couldn't be here 
with you today. In reading about Aaron, and thinking about my grandfather, I 
definitely see — I definitely see a similarity in what they both stood for. And 
my grandfather is someone who's always been very, very proud of people who 
stood up for what they believed in, even if it wasn't popular by everyone. And 
it's astonishing workAaron has done in his life. Here are the words from my 

"I'm sorry I cannot be present at this memorial for 
Aaron Swartz. These modern times are filled with 
such contradictions that experts are not agreed what 
the future of the human race will be. But we can 
agree today that it was a tragedy for this brilliant 
young man to be so threatened that he hanged 

Pete Seeger, January 19th, 2013 

Thank you. 

WIKLER: We're going to hear next from Doc Searles, who, as he'll describe, got to know 
Aaron, I think, when he was 14. 

SEARLES: It was strange coming in here this morning — or this afternoon, whatever it is — 
I lose track. Time seems to be off the table here. 

I kept thinking I was seeing Aaron. In the line outside, as I walk inside. . . 
there's such a sense of his presence. And then I saw this — I saw the program. 
That's a photo I shot of Aaron. I licensed it through Creative Commons, so 
that's one reason it's here. And that happened in part because Aaron educated 
me on how to do that. 

Aaron and I were often generational bookends at conferences that we went to. 
And we went to a lot of them — we tended to show up at stuff; that's why it 
makes sense for Aaron to be at something like this. And one of those was 
COMDEX, the — COMDEX was at one time the biggest conference there was. 
Sheldon Adelson, the guy who funded a lot of Republican activity, was the 

guy who ran COMDEX — he made his bones on that one. But it was a huge 
conference. And one of the last years it ran in Las Vegas was 2002 — it was 
right after the dot-com boom; the dot-com bust was in fact very much a big 
deal at that time. And I was asked to help put together a panel that was a 
debate — it was kind of — it was a debate between, basically, the same — the 
old and the new, more or less — the Internet culture and the traditional culture, 
however that was defined. And so they asked me to help put together the 
Internet culture side, and I chose Aaron as a guy on my side — the main guy on 
my side. 

They wondered why I would choose a guy so young — at the time he was 15. 
He just turned 16 at the time of the panel — and it's because he was the right 
one. He was the right one, because he already knew what needed to be known, 
and he was the — he was the guy we're going to hand this off to. 

Mika told me a great quote before this that really sums up, for me, the — the 
tragedy of this. . . . which is that when we're young, we think our cause is a 
sprint, and then we're middle aged; we think it's a marathon. And when we're 
old we think it's a relay race. And Aaron was the guy you wanted to hand this 
off to. 

One of the amazing things about maturing — about getting older — is that you 
realize your job is to leave. Your job is to leave the world better than you 
found it, and you want to leave it in the hands of people who were really good 
at taking care of the stuff that really matters, and standing up for the stuff that 
really matters. And Aaron did that. 

When he showed up at this thing, it was interesting because... I think Larry 
had introduced him to me earlier, but I was amazed — he was really small. He 
was this little guy. There's that picture of — among the ones that are rotating, 
earlier — of Larry Lessig talking to Aaron; that was about when he was that 
age. And yet, as soon as we started talking, it was like I'm talking to this adult. 
And I asked him about, you know, school and stuff like that, that you ask a 
teenager — he was done with school! He was done! (laughter) He moved on. 
"Well, you're going to high school." "No, no — I'm not doing that." "You 
going to university?" "Eh. I'm working." "On what?" Well, there's RSS, 
there's Creative Commons, there's a whole roster of things that he was active 
in. David Weinberger wrote a great blog post that said, "Aaron wasn't a 
hacker; he was a builder." But I was explaining hackers this morning to 
somebody at a bar mitzvah, that we just came from here. I was explaining 
hackers as the — I said, they're really the athletes — the athlete programmers. 
The top athletes. Because it's a respectable term. And it needs to have respect 


Aaron had — I believe his mom brought him there; that's what I said on my 
blog. I don't remember exactly, but he was chaperoned to the place. But when 
he was on stage and talking, I listened to what — I could have — the thing 
again, somebody went to the trouble of pulling the audio from an old video 
that was shot live at that thing. Love the web for that kind of thing; somebody 
digs this stuff up. And as I was listening to it, the one thing I heard Aaron 
vigorously defending and explaining was general-purpose computing. 
Something that's threatened now, he was saying this in 2002. To a bunch of 
executives. "We need to protect general purpose computing." So there's a — 
oh, and also he had a — his computer was this broken Mac laptop that had a — 
you couldn't read it, because the light had gone out behind it. Only he could 
read it. He explained this was OK, because it was still a security precaution, 
(laughter) 16 years old. 

Anyway, so, I was thinking about what Aaron stood for — you'll hear a lot of 
that today, and... and my note here says, "geeks and legal -justice." And... 
geeks tend to avoid the legal stuff. They tend not to want to screw with it. 
They tend to not want to deal with the politics. We're just — Linus Torvalds — 
I'm an editor for Linux Journal — would say, "I only do kernel space; I don't 
do user space." Politics is in user space; justice is in user space. Aaron was in 
both. And there are so few geeks that stand out and go that extra space, that 
extra step to defend the rest of us — to stand — to look out in the future and see 
what needs to be, and work on that, and making that happen. 

And we need justice here. That's what this hall is about; that's the sacred 
space we heard about earlier. Justice needs to happen here; that's what Pete 
Seeger stood for, still stands for. That's what we all need to stand for. 
Whatever that means — and in our hearts we know it's there. And the presence 
that is Aaron in the world persists and is in all of our hearts. But we need to do 
the work that he started. Thank you. 


WIKLER: When I met him, Aaron told me he wanted to be, really, a historian. Which 
isn't what he's most known for. He was working on a book of history — one 
chapter was how urban sprawl came to be as a result of a conspiracy of 
department store owners in Manhattan — it's a true story. Another was about a 
group of elementary school-aged girls in a factory in Massachusetts who 
started organizing trade unions before that was a thing, which resulted in the 

creation of public schools to keep them from organizing workers. 

The historian Rick Perlstein, who was a good friend of Aaron's, and who 
Aaron loved, wrote a memorial for Aaron where he said that each of us 
contains a universe in our heads, a world of information and heroes and 
villains and ideas. The difference was that Aaron had 14 or 15 of them. And 
different people here today represent different parts of those worlds. Our next 
speaker is Glenn Otis Brown; he was the first Executive Director of Creative 
Commons. He's done a million other things in technology, and got to know 
Aaron in another one of those worlds. 

BROWN: Thank you Ben; thank you all for having me here. Thank you Taren, thank 
you all of Aaron's friends and family. It's a very humbling thing and a huge 
honor to be invited to speak here today. 

I worked with Aaron, and had the privilege of getting to work with Aaron, in 
the early days of Creative Commons — it was around 2002, 2003. Aaron was 
about 15 or 16; it was about the same time Doc got to know him. And I didn't 
have any sort of mentor relationship with Aaron; technically he worked for 
the organization I was running, but that didn't mean that he worked for 
anybody, as was often the case for the rest of his life. And, in fact, at 15 or 16 
he was — I can safely say — more emotionally mature than I was at 28 or 
whatever I was . 

So we had primarily a work relationship, a very professional relationship, and 
I want to talk a little bit about that and give you a couple of anecdotes from 
that time that left a mark on me. But also to talk about Aaron as a person, and 
the glimpses of his heart and his soul that I saw, and that I think many others 
here who knew Aaron much more closely than I did over the years will speak 
to more later. But. . . . 

Aaron's role at Creative Commons early on was — officially, he was the 
metadata advisor, meaning he was the person in charge of taking Creative 
Commons licenses, which were a brand new concept at the time, something 
people thought was — I can tell you — insane. Most people thought we were 
crazy; they thought it was a "collective hallucination," was one term. And 
Aaron, he was 15 or 16, came in as a kind of metadata expert and his job was 
to translate these legal documents written by teams of lawyers in Silicon 
Valley and in Cambridge and turn them into machine-readable versions of 
that. So his ability to connect these different worlds that Doc spoke of began 
that early on. 

One thing that I found in something that I used to write called the Captain's 
Blog — which I originally called the Captain's Log, in a Star Trek reference — 
it was an internal kind of newsletter — and both Aaron Swartz and Larry Lessig 
corrected me and said it should be called the Captain's Blog. I didn't know 
what a blog was at the time, so. . . (laughter) Illustrative of our relationship. So: 

Creative Commons metadata advisor Aaron Swartz recently 
returned from the O'Reilly Open Source conference, where 
he gave keynote speaker Lawrence Lessig a run for his 
money, delivering a Python lightning talk on Creative 
Commons metadata from within Python. "The response was 
great," says Aaron. "People kept stopping me in the halls 
with compliments and questions." 

That was not to be the last time that was going to be the case with Aaron. 

Another just fun anecdote that comes from these same set of notes. . . there was 
a time on the actual page where you could choose a Creative Commons 
license — we thought about naming it, just kind of for marketing purposes — it 
might be kind of fun. Different names that were going around — we ended up 
not doing this, of course — but different names that were going around were, 
"The Commons Denominator," "The Genie" — which I came up with; I have 
no idea what I was thinking with that one. And Aaron's was, appropriately 
enough, "The Liberator." Which, as you all know, continues to ring true today 
in terms of Aaron's view on the world and the spirit that he brought. 

But I don't want to talk too much about, like I said, Aaron's work; I want to 
talk a little bit about his heart and his personality and his soul and his sense of 
humor. Another thing that I found in these notes, and pointed to from Aaron's 
blog, was his license haiku, which some of you may have seen. So, this is 
Aaron speaking on his blog, again around the same time, 2002: 

I think that people really use software licenses to express 
intentions, and don't really read the details of the licenses. 
So I think that licenses should be made as simple as 
possible, so that they don't disagree with intentions... thus, 
haiku licensing: 

(laughter) And. . . I have a feeling that most of the people in the room are 
going to know what this means, but apologies to those of you who don't 

know what these acronyms are; you will shortly, if you don't. 

[Public domain] : do what you feel like / since the work is 
abandoned / the law doesn't care 


MIT: take my code with you / and do whatever you want / 

but please don't blame me 

LGPL: you can copy this / but make modified versions / free 

in source code form 

MPL: like LGPL / except netscape is allowed / to change 

the license 


GPL: if you use this code / you and your children's 
children / must make your source free 

And he finishes with: 

RIAA: if you touch this file / my lawyers will come kill 
you / so kindly refrain 


And mostly I think about — I haven't stopped thinking about this from the 
moment I heard the terrible news on Saturday morning is — every thought 
comes back to Aaron's smile. Every thought comes back to this smile. It 
communicated so much more than almost anything else, and everything else 
that Aaron communicated spoke volumes. But this smile is literally the thing 
I'm constantly coming back to. 

And I have to comment a little bit on, I think, the — what I've just observed 
kind of in this last week, the touching public outpouring that is primarily, I 
think, maybe focused on Aaron's work, and the amazing things he 
accomplished in such a short period of time. I sometimes find myself, to the 
extent I feel a sense of regret. . . I try to turn that into a sense of gratitude, for — 

I feel like I didn't, maybe, see it — I want more of Aaron's soul; I want to have 
more of his personality; I wish I'd connected with him more on a personal 
level, and not so much on a work level. But sometimes we only get glimpses, 
and. . . we have to be grateful for that. I'm incredibly grateful. I hope that in 
the response that is coming — the public response, the work response, the 
political response, the social response that's already forming — I hope that at 
the same time everyone can keep in mind. . . not at the exclusion of the work — 
not at the exclusion of the politics — Aaron as a person, Aaron's soul, Aaron's 
sense of humor. 

And I want to just read one thing that was also on his blog that struck me 
many years ago, that I kept, and. . . and I just want to say it again here, that I 
think is relevant in a couple different ways, but... this is about Aaron's month 
offline — he posted a blog post about spending 30 days offline. This is a guy 
who it's very difficult to be offline for, like for many of us. So this is a very 
significant moment for him: 

most of all, I felt not just happy, but firmly happy — solid, 
is the best way I can put it. I felt like I was in control of my 
life instead of the other way around, like its challenges just 
bounced off me as I kept doing what I wanted. Normally I 
feel buffeted by events, a thousand tiny distractions 
nagging at the back of my head at all times. Offline, I felt in 
control of my own destiny. I felt, yes, serene. 

Which I think is a comforting thing to look back on, but I think also 
potentially relevant for how we think about our reaction here. I hope that our 
response to Aaron's passing is as much about our souls and our hearts, and 
Aaron's souls and hearts, as it is about the work that we will continue to carry 
on for him. 

I just want to finish with another set of lines from a writer I admire, up there 
with Aaron. This is from a song by Leonard Cohen called "Anthem." 

You can add up the parts 
But you won't have the sum. 

You can strike up the march 
On your little broken drum. 

Every heart, every heart, 

To love will come. 
But like a refugee. 

Ring the bells that still can ring, 
Forget your perfect offering. 

There is a crack, a crack in everything. 
That's how the light gets in. 

And I just want to finish by inviting everyone here to recognize that this is a 
tremendous gift that Aaron's given us — this collection of people, of all 
different ages, from many different backgrounds. And I want to make sure we 
take the opportunity and invite you all to introduce yourself to people you 
don't know — people who touched Aaron's life, and people whose life Aaron 
touched. And make — keep that connection, on a professional level, on the 
level of work and the work to be done, with the drum, with the march, but also 
the work of — of the heart and the soul, and the bell. 

Thank you. 


WIKLER: Aaron moved in and out of different institutions . He spent a year in high 

school, a year in college; he worked on a huge number of different projects. 
But he moved into people's lives and stayed there. One person whose life he 
was in, and who had a huge part in his life, was Quinn Norton, our next 
speaker. Always a close friend, a long-time partner, a great ally in so many 
things, and a wonderful writer. And the mother of Ada, her daughter, whom 
Aaron — I have this very vivid memory of — bought a quadracopter for her, 
which is a heli— like a remote-control helicopter with four blades that's 
controlled from an iPhone and flies around. And one day I was at the office, I 
was working, and Aaron came in and said, "I just bought a quadracopter!" 
And then he had to explain what the quadracopter was, and then he explained 
that it's controlled by an iPhone, and then he explained that it was for a 
seven-year-old. (laughter) Which totally blew my mind, but when Aaron was 
seven, he built an ATM. So. (laughter) 

Anyway, Quinn Norton. 

NORTON: What Ben didn't mention in that story is that Aaron immediately crashed that 
quadracopter — (laughing) — and destroyed it, and managed to get another one 

on insurance, which my daughter then crashed, and destroyed, (laughing) 

After a protracted illness had resolved, I dragged Aaron to Lassen National 
Monument in California and. . . I just have this very vivid memory of us up on 
the side of the mountain, trying to make a camp fire in the rain. And what we 
finally did — now, Aaron complained the whole way through. It was about the 
fact that we were there, and it was raining; that we were trying to make a 
camp fire. But during all of his complaints, he kept gathering and finding dry 
wood, and bringing it back to me, and I'd take it and pile it on. And. . . 
eventually, we got a good mound going, but it was still raining. And we 
sparked the little stuff underneath, and we covered it with newspaper, and 
then we gave up. 

And we went off for a little while, and chatted nearby over something that 
would cover us — or under something that would cover us — and it had time to 
kind of smolder. And it caught — it caught underneath the paper. And by the 
time it blew through the paper, it was strong enough to stay lit in the rain. And 
Aaron jumped up and, I mean, high-fived me, like we just won a tournament. 

An event like Aaron's death divides a life. It's the BC and the AD of one's 
personal story, and from now on, my own biography will have divided into 
when Aaron was alive and after he died. We look for the words that will bring 
him back; we look for memories that contain him, like an incantation. We 
look for something that can contain that soul. I have a thousand little pieces 
of our time together; a thousand little nets to try and trap the smoke that he 
now is. 

But I can't. He's slipped away. I loved him, but he's escaped me. 

Aaron left us and entered the realm of myth-making not long after. He doesn't 
belong to any one of us anymore, not even himself — he belongs to memory 
and history, and time and hope. Still, I lost a person that day, and a person that 
I cared for very deeply. And that's actually who I've come to talk about. Not 
the Internet saint, or the incredibly accomplished activist, or the young and 
notable Internet technologist — the Aaron I've come to talk about is the one 
who sang "Little Boxes" to my daughter while we were driving around Daly 
City. The person who almost never did any of the damn dishes, (laughter) The 
one who stole my camera to take long exposures of Ada and I when we were 
sleeping; the one who complained all the way through all the camping trips. 
And, grinning, always agreed to the next one. The one who climbed 30 feet up 
to a top of a tree in Northern California and sat there insisting he liked it; he 

wouldn't have any trouble getting back down for quite some time. 

Aaron Swartz ate a lot of water crackers, (laughter) A lot of water crackers, 
(laughter) I spent a huge amount of time studying how to feed Aaron, and in 
time, I managed to consistently get a few vegetables down him on a regular 
basis. Mostly I managed to feed him cakes and cookies and creme brulee, and 
he eventually came to introduce me to another foodie friend of his and he 
conspired to feed him. And that conspiring eventually turned into a rich 
friendship, and me helping with a cookbook, which we gave Aaron. It only 
kind of worked. 

He was terrible about making plans at the last minute. Aaron could be a real 
pain in the ass to deal with. He was so there with you. . . he was so in the space 
with you. He had this special quality, which I've noticed again now, seeing so 
many people that... almost everyone who has something they're passionate 
about eventually said, "Well, that was the thing that Aaron always said he 
wanted to be." So I have the impression he wanted to be a writer; my 
sociologist friend has the impression he wanted to be a sociologist — and 
Aaron was doomed, from the beginning, to just be Aaron. To defy these 

We talk about how extraordinary he was, but actually, he wasn't. He was 
another human being, with all the flaws and glories that each of us have, each 
of us an infinite well of solitude. He was scared and self-conscious; he could 
be funny and greedy and petty and loving and curious and hopeful, and 
strange. He was irreducible; he was difficult. A person, the most complex thing 
we've yet found in our universe. He turned to me once in a movie theater and 
said, like someone who had just realized the answer to a difficult math 
problem, "I contain multitudes." (laughter) 

However, to call Aaron extraordinary isn't a way to side-step the message of 
how he lived his life. The only reason we're all here at this memorial, holding 
up this 26-year-old as a paragon, is that in a culture ruled by fear, he learned 
and taught me that trying is more important than being afraid. "Don't worry," 
he told me, "no one remembers your failures." Don't waste time doing small 
things and being cautious. We're here because he did so much in his 26 years, 
despite a culture saying you have to be careful and risk nothing. Be 
responsible, be deferential, go through the proper channels. He rejected all 
that. He didn't wait to start living, and that's all it took. He understood that 
his curiosity was all the license he needed. It was the only permission to 
participate in the world. And when the world didn't understand that, he taught 
it to them. 

He understood that learning was more important than accreditation, and that 
intelligence is a poor and pale substitute for caring. He burned with a love for 
humanity, and he surrounded himself with people, all so infinitely complex — 
you people. Struck dumb by a love of the world. He lived a life of thought and 
action, and that is the rarest thing in this world, right now, at this moment in 
history, to marry our thoughts and our actions. 

We shared an understanding that a life is a thing made in the living of it, and 
he inspired me. And here, in the AD, I will carry that little inspiration like a 
jewel gripped in my hand: beautiful, valuable, abrasive, and impossible to 

I'd like to read a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millet, called "First Faith." 

My candle burns at both ends 
It will not last the night 
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends 
It gives a lovely light. 

Thank you. 


WIKLER: We'll now have a brief musical interlude. . . Damian Kulash, from the band OK 
Go, which Aaron really liked, is here -he's going to play a song. 

KULASH: This is a song by a band called Lavender Diamond, called "Everyone's 
Heart's Breaking Now." 

Oh everybody's heart's breaking now 
And you feel the world is ending somehow 
And you wonder how we'll find our way out 
Oh everybody' s heart's breaking now 

Oh everybody' s heart's breaking now 
When the oceans and the rivers turn brown 
And what's living inside 'em is drowned 
Oh everybody' s heart's breaking now 

Breaking now.. 
Breaking now.. 

Maybe run through the fire and we'll both find the same 
But together was better, we hold on together 

Oh everybody' s heart's breaking now 
When the children are troubled and down 
And there 's so many ways you can tell 
Oh everybody' s heart's breaking now 

Breaking now.. 
Breaking now.. 

Maybe run through the fire and we'll both find the same 
But together was better, we hold on together 

Breaking now.. 
Breaking now.. 
Breaking now.. 

WIKLER: I mostly knew Aaron as a friend and as an activist, but I learned a lot about 

technology from him, and one thing that I learned about was the agile method 
of software development, which is practiced at ThoughtWorks. And in agile 
software development, the idea is you make things, right away, and put them 
in front of real people, and then see what doesn't work, and then fix that. And 
then make it again. And you're constantly building and changing things, and 
it's something that works incredibly well in technology. In print products, it 
doesn't work quite as well, but (trying to) use the same principles, you'll find 
a typo on the front of your program — 2012 should be 2013. 

But Aaron. . . Aaron would always try stuff. And one of the things I loved 
about him was his combination of sort of reverence and fearlessness. So if he 
found something that was fascinating or interesting, he would just reach out 
to whoever it was who was doing that thing and start learning from it and 
talking about it. Which, I think, is how it came to be that one day he came 
over to my place and he'd just been visiting with Edward Tufte, who is a 
revered and amazing sort of founder of the field of the visual display of 
quantitative information. Edward Tufte is here today, and he's going to talk to 
us about his Aaron Swartz, which was part of the multitude of Aaron Swartzes 

that we all knew one way or another. 

Edward Tufte. 


TUFTE: Aaron first encountered me at Stanford in 2005 and promptly posted a very 
funny account about looking for my ghostly presence. He tells the story of 
how he had a choice between taking a final exam and — or coming to hear me 
talk. As it turned out, he did both. 

We then would meet over the years for a long talk every now and then, and 
my responsibility was essentially to provide him with a reading list — a 
reading list for life. And then, about two years ago, Quinn and Aaron came to 
Connecticut and he told me about the four- and- a-half million downloads of 
scholarly articles. And my first question was: why isn't MIT celebrating this? 


Then I told him — actually, I had a problem with what he did because 
probably, of those four-and-a-half million scholarly articles, only about one or 
two thousand deserved reading. 

(laughter, applause) 

But what he needed in downloading was — in addition — was a quality control 
mechanism, (laughter) That would ensure that the material deserved to be 
downloaded by Aaron. And so I suggested that he combine his search or his 
downloading of articles with a link to the citation index so he could 
download articles that had been cited more often than just by the author's 


Either at that meeting, or maybe at the next one, we talked a little bit about 
the legal case — or maybe this is right before he was indicted. And he asked 
me if I knew Bill Bowen. I think he knew the answer to that question. Bill 
Bowen was the president of Princeton when I was — started out — and was 
enormously helpful in my career there. He then became president of the 
Mellon Foundation, and he had retired from the Mellon Foundation, but he 
was asked by the Mellon Foundation to handle the problem of JSTOR and 

Aaron. So I wrote Bill Bowen an email about it. And I said, first, that Aaron 
was a treasure. And then I told a personal story about how I had done some 
illegal hacking as a student and been caught at it and what happened. 

In 1962, my housemate and I invented the first "blue box" — that's a device 
that allows for free, undetectable, unbillable long-distance telephone calls. 
And we got this bug, and played around with it, and the end of our research 
came when we completed what we thought was the longest long-distance 
telephone call ever made (laughter) which was from Palo Alto to New York 
time of day, via Hawaii, (laughter) Well, during our experimentation, AT&T — 
on the second day, it turned out — had tapped our phone. And... but it wasn't 
until about six months later when I got a call from a gentleman, A J Dodge, 
senior security person at AT&T, and I said, "I know what you're calling 

And so we met, and he said, "You know, what you were doing is a crime" — 
network, and all that. And — but I knew it wasn't serious, because he actually 
cared about the kind of engineering stuff and complained that the tone signals 
we were generating weren't up to standard, (laughter) Because they recorded 
them and played them back into the network to see what numbers they were — 
we were trying to reach — and they couldn't break through the noise of our 

The upshot of it was that — oh, and he asked why we went off the air after 
about three months. Because this was to make, you know, long-distance 
telephone calls for free. And I said, "Well, it was — we regarded it as an 
engineering problem, and we'd made the longest long-distance phone call, 
and so that was it." And so the deal was that — as I explained in my email to 
Bill Bowen — the deal was that we wouldn't try to sell this — we were told 
that. . . I was told that crime syndicates would pay a great deal for this; we 
wouldn't do any more of it, and that we would turn our equipment over to 
AT&T. And so they got a complete vacuum tube oscillator kit for making 
long-distance phone calls. 

But I was grateful for AJ Dodge, and, I must say, even AT&T, that they 
decided not to wreck my life . 

And so. . . I told Bill Bowen. . . that he had a great opportunity here to not 
wreck somebody's life. And of course he, thankfully, did the right thing. 

Aaron's unique quality was that he was marvelously and vigorously different. 

There is a scarcity of that. Perhaps we can be all a little more different, too. 

Thank you very much. 

WIKLER: Pretty early — I guess everything in Aaron's life was pretty early, but — but 
even within Aaron's life, pretty early in his life, he had the fortune to make 
some money that allowed him to be financially independent. As many people 
have written and reflected, Aaron never actually did anything for the purpose 
of making money. That he was part of Reddit and (helped us to sell it), I think 
when he was 20. When I met him, he was maybe the most austere person that 
I'd ever met, in his personal life. He lived in a tiny apartment; all his 
belongings fit in a duffel bag and a backpack. He was working in this office 
that had a hole in the wall. And I don't know what was in his bank account, 
but I do know that he was using everything he had to try to maximize his 
impact on the world. 

His idea of the number one way to do that was funding his projects, and I 
think he was right. But in his will, he left everything that's left over to an 
organization called Give Well. The co-founder and co-Executive Director of 
Give Well is our next speaker, Holden Karnofsky. Holden... thanks for being 
here, Holden. 

KARNOFSKY: I met Aaron through his interest in the work of Peter Singer. Peter Singer is a 
philosopher who argues that we're morally obligated to give as much as we 
can to charity, because our money can do so much more good for others than 
it can do for us. Peter promotes my organization, Give Well, because Give Well 
works to find the charities that are doing the most good, for example, in terms 
of lives saved per dollar given. 

This is not the way most people think about giving to charity. For most 
people, giving to charity is optional, and it's personal. They see all giving as 
praiseworthy and all options as equally valid, and they give to a charity that 
they have a personal connection to, or a personal passion for. To many 
people, it's a strange and foreign idea that you could be doing something 
wrong by giving to a charity that's good and just not the best. 

But to Aaron, this idea was natural and obvious. Aaron was driven by that 
same approach, not just for how to spend his money but for how to spend his 
time and his considerable talents. Aaron believed in trying to maximize the 
good he accomplished with each minute he had. He looked across all of the 
things he could be working on, and he strategically chose his best shot at 

making a positive difference. You could say Aaron approached making 
positive change the way a lot of people approach making money: he wanted 
as much as possible, he obsessed over it, he strategized over it, and he was 
willing to work in any area for it. 

This attitude made Aaron very versatile, and very fascinating — he was one of 
my favorite people to talk to. We often met up to do nothing but talk and 
wander through Brooklyn for several hours. The first time we did this, it took 
from 10 in the morning until 10 at night. We talked about which political 
issues we found most important and why, and what we can do about them, and 
we ventured into other topics as well. 

The last time we met was just before Christmas 2012, and Aaron showed up 
talking about how he was starting to wonder whether the Victorians had been 
right all along. Because he had been reading studies implying that willpower 
is like a muscle, and improves with practice. So, maybe wearing silly clothes 
and being sexually repressed might have made the Victorians incredibly good 
at practicing self-control in productivity, (laughter) The idea sounded a little 
silly, and neither of us wanted to believe that we should live like the 
Victorians, but we also didn't want to dismiss an idea just for those reasons if 
it might lead somewhere useful. So we tried to assess the idea and the 
evidence non-judgmentally, and extract some possibilities from our 

That was the start of a six-hour conversation that ended in the dark outside the 
Grand Army Plaza subway stop. Thats where Aaron said his last words to me 
in person. Those words were on the subject of whether GDP statistics are 
robust enough to be able to shed light on whether technological progress is 
slowing down. These topics were examples of Aaron's interest in what he 
called "meta-issues" — how to improve your productivity, how to reason in 
the most effective way, how to promote rational altruism, how to design our 
organizations and manage people. Aaron was fascinated by these topics 
because he thought that figuring out more about them could improve the 
world on a lot of different fronts at once . 

But Aaron was interested in small things, as well. He once walked me through 
one of his proudest accomplishments, which was getting the letter "s" 
appended to the end of a word in a financial regulation bill. This subtly 
expanded shareholder protections, as he explained to me. There was no issue 
or battle too big or too small for Aaron's interest — what drove him was just 
whether he saw an opportunity to accomplish something positive. Our 
conversations were wide-ranging, but there was always that background focus 

on rational altruism — on bringing it back to getting something done. 

So I think Aaron would be honored by the fact that people are trying to get 
something done in the wake of his death. I think he would be honored by the 
efforts to combat excessive prison sentences, and to promote freedom of 
information. But these aren't the only actions that I think do honor to Aaron. I 
think anyone who is struggling to make the world a better place, in any area, 
in any place in time, is in some sense honoring his memory. 

That doesn't mean all actions are equally valuable; for Aaron, they never 
were. If you're thinking about Aaron today, I'd suggest looking at your efforts 
to create positive change and asking yourself if these are the best you can do. 
Ask yourself whether you've let yourself fall into a job or a cause because it's 
easy and because you're used to it, or whether you're being strategic and 
deliberate and reflective about picking the battles where you can do the most 
good. And after you take the step back today, if you can ask that same 
question tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. You'll be 
thinking about the limited, invaluable minutes in your life the way Aaron 
thought about his. 

With Aaron's death, we now have one fewer person who thinks that way, and I 
think we desperately need more. Arguably, we need a small army of rational 
altruists just to match what Aaron accomplished in his short lifetime. We'll 
need a huge army of them if we're ever going to realize Aaron's dream of the 
world, which was nothing less than a world without any injustice or suffering 
of any kind. So if you haven't tried thinking that way before, I think today 
would be a good day to start. 

Thank you. 


WIKLER: Give Well, this year, has identified a group that provides insecticide-treated 

bed nets to combat malaria as the most effective charity in the world this year. 
You can give to them through And on a technical note, you can 
tweet about today with the hashtag "#aaronswartz" or "#aaronsw" and you 
can tell friends that they can find a live stream of this event, again, at You can also submit a remembrance for Aaron at, or read other people's at 

Our next speaker is the writer and essayist Tom Chiarella, one of Aaron's 

favorites, who is doing a reading, which he can introduce. 


CHLARELLA: It's really not funny, for a lot of reasons, but if you walked in here and you 
saw David Foster Wallace reading in the program and you thought, "Oh my 
gosh, David Foster Wallace is reading," I'm so sorry, (laughter) For many 
reasons. Obviously. 

I knew David Foster Wallace a little bit, and I know he wouldn't have wanted 
to be read like gospel. He — these [spectacles] are from CVS; I'm struggling. I 
know that. . . I told Taren that I would speak a little beforehand to avoid the 
notion, for David, really , just that these are holy words, but — and I couldn't 
figure out how to create something that would segue with a person I 
considered one of, you know, the more brilliant people I'd ever met. So I just 
decided I would get up in the morning and write the first thing I thought of, 
you know, because I've been thinking about nothing else but this. 

So this is me, and then I'll segue at some point to David Foster Wallace, and 
I'll raise my finger and tell you. 

My father was an architect who encouraged me to see my entire existence as a 
kind of city. Not a very grand city, not Rome, or New York, or London, just a 
component city — a functioning place. Orderly design, disorderly nature. City, 
a series of parts, the marketplace, the town square, the promenade, the dark 
alley, the offices, the union hall. The houses, their windows lamplit. In my 
dream, this city looks very much like the ones — in all my dreams, the city 
looks very much like the one I grew up in — Rochester, New York — a city that 
doesn't matter any more than any other city, just as I matter no more than any 
other person. But I know those neighborhoods; I know the passage of that 
river and the pathway of that canal. 

I've seen, for some time, in those dreams that there are two spires in my city — 
two architectural spikes against the sky. I think they're skyscrapers, or 
steeples, though I never go near enough to them to get a very good look. The 
first steeple, I know — and I knew this morning ~ was a representation of 
myself; a measure of how I live. Of what I bring to the world. Very rarely, it 
rises high above the city in a thuggish thrust of ego, but more often it's barely 
visible on the horizon. I try not to look at that. 

The second spire never disappears from the skyline. That is my faith. Not my 

religious faith; I just don't have any of that. It's my faith in the people who 
keep things working in my dream city. The electrical workers, the carpenters, 
the street cleaners, the police. And yes, a kind of government. Government, 
my father always assured me, was another component of a city, and a way of 
life , of what we all are . A piece of the power we grant to the people we trust — 
we trust to govern us using intellect, knowledge, and compassion. 

So I'm just reporting from my dreams, to the world in which I awoke this 
morning, that that second tower — it's burning. 

Oddly, I never met Aaron. I'm told he liked my writing; I'm also told he liked 
David Foster Wallace. So let me read this and close. 

Worship power, and you will feel weak and afraid. You will 
need more power over others to keep that fear at bay. 
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, and you'll end 
up feeling stupid, fraught, always on the verge of being 
found out, and so on. 

The insidious things about these forms of worship is not 
that they're evil or sinful, it's that they are unconscious — 
default settings. They're the kind of worship you just 
gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more 
selective about what you see and how you measure value, 
without ever being fully aware that that's what you are 
doing . And the world will not discourage you from 
operating on your default settings, because the world of 
men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the 
fuel of fear, on contempt and frustration, and craving, and 
the worship of self. 

Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways 
that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and 
personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny, 
skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. 
This kind of freedom has much to recommend it, but, of 
course, there are all different kinds of freedom. And that 
kind that is most precious, you'll not hear much talk about 
in the gray outside world of winning and achieving and 
displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves 
tension and awareness and discipline and effort, and being 
truly able to care about other people, to sacrifice for them 

over and over in myriad, petty little unsexy ways every day. 
That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the 
default setting, the rat race, the constant, gnawing sense of 
having had and lost some infinite thing. 

WIKLER: Our next speaker is Roy Singham. Roy is a software executive, or a 

technology executive — he runs ThoughtWorks , an IT consultancy where 
Aaron was working, and he also is a passionate believer in changing the 
world. And Aaron thought he was amazing. And he thought Aaron was 
amazing . 


Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground 
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down 
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground 
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down 

( - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, "Find The Cost of 

SINGHAM: Bertolt Brecht once wrote, "There are men that struggle for a day, and they are 
good. There are others that struggle for a year, and they are better. There are 
some who struggle for many years, and they are better still. But then there are 
those who struggle all their lives, and these are the indispensable ones." And 
Aaron Swartz was one of the indispensable ones. 

As you have heard, Aaron was a very complex and wondrous soul, and I feel 
so privileged to have been one of the people who got to see him in all these 
other forms, his loving — he loved Ada; he was so patient. He was just — you 
know, we say the beautiful soul — it's hard, unless you met him, to know how 
sincere and authentic that really was. This was the person that he had become. 
And he was also, though, this consummate team member, who could be part of 
the broader human race in most wondrous ways. 

His primary work, in working with ThoughtWorks, was to lead and build the 
next generation of tools for organizing and democratizing campaigning. He 
was deeply worried that this wonderful world of technology that had been 
created was going to be usurped, and not end up being a tool of democracy 
with a small "d." So when I first met him, he was like, all these ideas — he 
would say, "Roy, you know, I've studied these campaigns and how we've 

done SOPA; I've got this idea for how to do A/B testing with campaigns. But 
one of the things we have to guarantee is that a woman in India — in rural 
India — with her simple cell-phone — she could run the campaign she wants 
without the need for the experts, and for others." He was that much of a caring 
person. He was, in my humble opinion, one of the true, extraordinary 
revolutionaries that this country has produced. 

He was a leader. He was a mentor. When we first gave him his team here in 
New York, we got people from all over the world to work, you know, for him. 
But he, you know, he's a clever guy; this is all people he hasn't met. So, what 
does he do — he puts on the theme song for the Muppets, and starts singing 
the Muppet song, and then starts pairing away with all the developers. For 
those of you who don't know, developers — it's not a normal sort of. . . mode of 
operandum. And within minutes, he had mesmerized and inspired his — and 
changed the dynamics of his interactions. 

You know, we had a moment of silence across the world, in all of our 20- 
something offices. And, you know, it's hard to say how — had been on a video- 
conference with me, in front of about a thousand people — we had live 
streamed, when we were actively trying to figure out how to launch the 
campaign for his defense. And he couldn't say much about the, you know, the 
campaign itself, but he desperately wanted to show people, you know, this 
was not about Aaron. This was about a broad issue. He was so uncomfortable 
in that moment, because he knew that he had been railroaded into something 
that was a side issue on the scheme of his master agenda. 

He was truly, as the Economist — not my favorite magazine, but he said, truly 
— in the Economist — he was a Commons man. He deeply wanted to protect 
humanity's intellectual treasures as part of these Commons. Economically, he 
believed that the creation of academic and intellectual property was a social 
process often paid by governments and by the public and, as had been the 
case with libraries in previous centuries, he demanded that they stay part of 
the public good. 

He also was not — I mean, I have to say, unfortunately, in our industry — in this 
technology industry — we have a lot of egomaniacs and egotists. He was not 
that. He firmly believed that his — the accident of his considerable intellectual 
prowess gave him no right to appropriate the essential good that is the 
common tradition of the human race, which is intellectual knowledge. 

We were at the funeral with his father — and I know some of you are parents 

here. There's nothing more wretched, as you know, than having to give a 
eulogy for your own son. And Bob did it in the most human, and — in a way 
that all of us cried, of course, when he spoke. But then he made something 
that stuck a knife in my heart — he made a very lucid point, about the 
duplicity of our society, that protects those who accumulate wealth, and treats 
those like Aaron in a completely different fashion, (applause) You know, it is 
just... unacceptable. 

You heard it, just a few moments ago, how many young students who are, you 
know, precocious with technology do things. It is well-known that Mark 
Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs bent the rules for their own good. They did 
it for themselves. They engaged in shady practices of use of public property 
whilst at the university in their early days — none of them faced 35 years in 
prison, (applause) 

Instead, they have amassed great wealth. They are worshipped. Yet here's 
Aaron, somebody whose life is the exact opposite of these people — and I've 
met these people, I've met Aaron, and you can not imagine a polar opposite of 
beauty in human beings. And here is the opposite of that, and yet he fought 
every moment — he lived his truth. He only worked on the important. He 
really, really did. There was not a day that he didn't do that. And yet, he used 
his incredible talents and privilege for the advocates of those without. 

So, we have a choice. What Bob taught me at that — at that funeral: we have a 
choice today. We have this very small and unique opportunity in history to 
shake up the control by these self- aggrandizing egomaniacs who use 
technology for the good of the 1%. This is not something that — Aaron's 
legacy is to kill that grip. 

Aaron was a systems thinker, and he saw that this large accumulation of 
economic wealth in the form of private corporations was subverting 
everything in its path. He was, as his close friend David Segal said, a 
communitarian. It is these ideals that we should uphold. 

His views on students — what — you know, he gave a speech; some of you 
have seen it, I think, on Democracy Now , and some of the clips, but in his 
speeches, he was encouraging US students to think about their own privilege. 
Because when they have — go to an elite university, and they have all these 
JSTOR documents, he made a salient point: that opportunity doesn't exist for 
the young child in India. What right do we have for that knowledge, which 
has come from the ages of the Enlightenment? And he's just so clever with 

how he constructs the right frame of thing, that he said, "You know, this is the 
way we can deal with open access and social justice." He was always 
challenging us — I mean, he was always amazing to all of us, who'd look at 
him and say, "How do you come up with this idea, to figure this way, in this 
correct way." He was just that kind of guy. 

But tonight, I also want to tell you about a side of Aaron that I — is very 
important to me, because I grew up all over the world — Aaron was a deeply 
internationalist soul. A few weeks ago. . . excuse me. A few weeks ago, I had 
invited a small group of progressive Muslims into our offices to talk about 
how we deal with the growing violence against Muslims and people that 
people think are Muslims in our country. This was just after the subway event, 
where the woman had pushed, you know, the young man to his death. 

And so, as is my nature, I'd seen Aaron early in the day; I said, "Aaron, you've 
got to come to this meeting, man... drop what you're doing, show up in the 
meeting." And, of course, Aaron did that, and he came to the meeting, you 
know, in the evening. I was actually on Skype at that point. And, as always, 
here's Aaron listening for an hour to all of these complicated things — both of 
us learning about, you know, what is the status of, you know, the politics of 
the Muslim community here in the United States, and et cetera — but 
absorbing all of this thing. And here, most of us are probably double his age. 
And he waits, and all of a sudden he begins to talk and he says, "I think you 
guys have framed this issue incorrectly. The right way to frame this issue is we 
have to conduct a campaign against the merchants of hate." 

And there was silence. He has promptly characterized what was the issue at 
hand in a way that everybody in America could understand, and that we could 
understand. And I want to tell you that the people who were in that room with 
Aaron are sitting here today, weeping at the loss of Aaron. And they've asked 
me, "Roy, how can we allow our country to take away this beautiful voice?" 
Here is this young, beautiful Jewish kid — he's a kid to me; he's — I know he's 
a man, but — that voice had no right to be taken from us. 

It had no right. 

And I — I gravitated between sadness and crying and anger, when I know that 
when people like that are taken and we don't raise our voices, we are 
comp licit. And I'm so proud that so many of you have showed up tonight. 


Aaron would have wanted us to look at the history to understand our next 
tasks. I mean, you understand — Aaron touched so many of us in the 
progressive community that we are unable to sort of figure out, what is the 
strategies and tactics of next? But he was the consummate — he wanted to a 
historian, and a sociologist, and many things. 

Revolutions are made by people. They are not made by heroes. But 
nevertheless, leaders matter greatly everywhere in the world. Our country has 
a tradition of creating a climate of fear whenever they risk change. This 
climate of fear started, obviously, under slavery, but even in the post-slavery 
period, under Reconstruction, when you had the Jim Crowe laws, we 
introduced fear in the post-Reconstruction South. We've witnessed the 
McCarthy period; we are now witnessing the war against terror, and the rise of 
Islamophobia in our country. And when our government fails to intimidate, 
they silence their opponents. 


52 years ago, Patrice Lumumba was murdered by the Belgian and United 
States governments in the Congo. He was one of the most important leaders of 
his generation and, in fact, centuries in Africa. He was that significant. It took 
us almost 40 years for it to be impossible for the United States to deny that 
they had a role in his assassination. 

45 years ago, in the jungles of Bolivia, Che Guevara was assassinated on the 
orders of the CIA. Aaron knew, and decided consciously, the system with 
which he was taking on. 

Aaron was a target of the FBI. After the PACER incident, they followed him; 
he was strip- searched. Let's not pretend that this was not a political issue of 
Aaron's voice on SOPA and the rest of the issues that he fought. 


Last December, I was able to introduce two of my — I have a number of heroes, 
but two of them, very close to me — one is Aaron, and the other is P. Sainath, 
who is India's living greatest journalist, who's covered rural poverty in India 
for the last 20 years and which, as you know, is a very difficult subject. And 
the two of them — the three of us, actually, had began talking. So I wrote him, 
you know, I think in the second day, and I think he'd heard. And this is what 

Sainath wrote back to me: 

This was — and I say it without hesitation — not suicide. It 
was murder by intimidation, bullying, and torment. 


Today, we are left with a number of issues to fight in the wake of Aaron's 
passing. First, we must demand accountability for those who tormented Aaron. 
We do not do so to personalize the issue, or to seek revenge — that is not our 
motivation. We understand that if we allow the climate of fear to exist, the 
damage that will be done is that the next Aaron will not come. That is a future 
that we will not accept in our world. That is a future unacceptable. 


During our annual retreat this summer, Aaron had joined 500 of his 
colleagues, and we had a number of speakers discussing one of the more 
egregious cancers of our country, which is the US Justice System. We have 5% 
of the world's population, and yet 25% of the prisoners of the world are 
incarcerated in our country. African Americans now count for one million of 
the 2.3 million prisoners. 80,000 people as we sit here today are in 
constrained confinement or solitary confinement. Solitary confinement has 
been condemned by the United Nations as — as a form of torture. 


And Aaron — he was deeply conscious of privilege. He really thought — and 
he would not have wanted to be in history that it would take somebody of his 
stature, and his connections, to bring attention to this plague and abusive 
system of plea bargaining in America. Aaron is like many of tens of thousands 
of Americans who don't have his influence, and doesn't have these friends — 
the wonderful people we have here. This system that is in America today is an 
abuse of state power. A fitting legacy for Aaron would be the dismantling of 
this system. 


And a second and more direct legacy must be to change the Computer Fraud 
and Abuse Act. (applause) We must help Congresswoman Lofgren craft the 
right language. It has to not only be about getting rid of the question of 

criminalizing terms of service, it has to get rid of this ambiguity that's in the 
law, so that unscrupulous prosecutors from Boston to Maine to wherever they 
are in this country — they don't have the latitude that they had to go after 
Aaron. We have to make sure that doesn't happen. 


I want to close with the words of Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest 
leaders of our country, who spoke in this very hall about 100 — over 100 years 
ago, a few years after the emancipation from slavery. 

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows 
that all concessions yet made to her august claims have 
been borne of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle, there 
is no progress. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may 
be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a 
struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It 
never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will 
submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of 
injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and 
they will continue until they are resistant either with words 
or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed 
by the endurance of those whom they oppress. 

Dearest Aaron: we loved you dearly. Aaron was like a son to me, and I — it's 
very hard to describe the last week. Aaron, you were a gentle giant. You 
believed in the constant struggle to right the wrongs of the world that 
previous generations had failed to correct, and for that, I looked at Aaron and I 
said I know that I have not done my duty in my generation. I feel that deeply. 

You refused to accept injustice as inevitable. You have touched and inspired 
us all with your vision of the social and justice for every person — every living 
person on this planet. We promise today with our deepest hearts to carry on 
your legacy to the best of our abilities. Brother Aaron, one love. 


WIKLER: Aaron was a fighter. We remember him for his generosity, for his spirit, for his 
verve, for his brilliance, for his warmth, for his wit, for everything he built. But 
he also fought. Our next speaker, David Eisenberg, was the founder and 
organizer of Freedom to Connect. He invited Aaron to give the speech that 

has been replayed all across the Internet in the last week, where Aaron tells the 
story of how he helped millions of people to stop SOPA, the Internet 
censorship bill. 

In the last years of Aaron's life, he had just started this journey of figuring out 
how to mobilize people, how to light the spark in people, so that they could 
realize their own power and change the world. And I think that what he did for 
technology and the Internet he was just beginning to do for politics. It's our 
job to carry that forward, but it's worth remembering what he already did in 
that space. So I'd like you to join me in welcoming David Eisenberg. 


EISENBERG: I can't even remember the first time I met Aaron. He was just there, in the same 
community I was — this community. I got joined to this community when I 
was at AT&T Bell Laboratories. In the mid-'90s, I wrote an essay called, "The 
Rise of the Stupid Network." Through the essay, I tried to tell AT&T that the 
Internet would shift control of the network from them — the telephone 
companies, the cable companies — to us. The essay went viral on the Internet 
before we even knew what going viral on the Internet meant, (laughter) And 
soon, "The Rise of the Stupid Network," my essay, was such an embarrassment 
to AT&T that I lost my job. 


Over the next years, I watched the telephone companies and cable companies 
and their allies get the message and then organize to thwart regulation, beat 
down competition, and distort the law in a war to keep the Internet — which is 
to say, this shift from their control to our control — from happening. Aaron 
died in that war. 

In 2004, 1 organized the conference to give voice to our side of this war called 
Freedom to Connect. Last year, I invited Aaron to speak at Freedom to 
Connect. He asked me what he should talk about and, knowing Aaron, I said, 
"Anything you want, man." (laughter) But I told him, "Really work on it, give 
the speech of your life." because I knew he would rise to the challenge. And as 
you can see, or maybe as you've seen on Democracy Now or in various other 
places, YouTube, et cetera, he did rise to that challenge. 

So, a few days before that speech, I touched base with him and I said, you 
know, "What are you going to say?" And he told me, and I was surprised that 

he wasn't mentioning his own JSTOR fight. I said, "Aren't you going to cover 
that?" He said, simply, "No." 

No. No. 

Aaron wanted to talk about the big fights, the fights to make the world a better 
place. And I'm afraid that Aaron's legacy is going to be dumbed down to 
hacker, copyfighter, the way the media dumbed down the SOPA fight to 
Google versus the telephone companies. So, let's not forget that Aaron fought 
the bigger fight — the fight for access, the fight for justice, the fight for 
democracy. The fight for us ~ for this community, and for the greater 
community that is all humankind. So... now we're going to watch some 
excerpts from his Freedom to Connect speech, and as you'll see, Aaron 
actually says it better than I could. So, over to you, Aaron. 

SWARTZ: There's a battle going on right now, a battle to define everything that happens 
on the Internet in terms of traditional things that the law understands. Is 
sharing a video on BitTorrent like shoplifting from a movie store? Or is it like 
loaning a videotape to a friend? Is reloading a webpage over and over again 
like a peaceful virtual sit-in, or a violent smashing of shop windows? Is the 
freedom to connect like freedom of speech, or like the freedom to murder? 
This bill would be a huge, potentially permanent loss. If we lost the ability to 
communicate with each other over the Internet, it would be a change to the 
bill of rights — the freedoms guaranteed in our constitution. The freedoms our 
country had been built on would be suddenly deleted. New technology, 
instead of bringing us greater freedom, would have snuffed out fundamental 
rights we'd always taken for granted. And I realized that day, talking to Peter, 
that I couldn't let that happen. So I did what you always do, when you're a 
little guy facing a terrible future with long odds and little hope of success - I 
started an online petition. 


It started from literally nothing. We went to 10,000 signers, then 100,00 
signers, and then 200,000 signers and 300,000 signers in just a couple weeks. 
And it wasn't just signing a name; we asked these people to call Congress — to 
call urgently. There was a vote coming up this week, in just a couple days, 
and we had to stop it. And at the same time, we told the press about it — about 
this incredible online petition that was taking off. And I met with the staff of 
members of Congress and pleaded with them to withdraw their support for the 
bill. I mean, it was amazing — it was huge. The power of the Internet rose up in 

force against this bill... and then it passed unanimously. 

At the time, it felt like we were going around telling people that these bills 
were awful, and in return, they told us that they thought we were crazy. I 
mean, we were kids wandering around waving our arms about how the 
government was going to censor the Internet — it does sound a little crazy. But 
when the bill came back and started moving again, suddenly all the work 
we'd done started coming together. All the folks we'd talked to about it 
suddenly began getting really involved, and getting others involved — 
everything started snowballing. Just a few weeks later, I remember, I was 
chatting with this cute girl on the subway, and she wasn't in technology at all, 
but when she heard that I was, she turned to me very seriously and said: "You 
know, we have to stop SOPA." 


So, progress, right? (laughing) The wheels came off the bus pretty quickly 
after that hearing. First, the Republican senators pulled out, and then the 
White House issued a statement opposing the bill. And then the Democrats, 
left all alone out there , announced they were putting the bill on hold so they 
could have a few further discussions before the official vote. 

And that was when, as hard as it was for me to believe after all this, we had 
won. The thing that everyone said was impossible, that some of the biggest 
companies in the world had written off as kind of a pipe dream, had happened. 
We did it. We won. 


The people rose up, and they caused a sea change in Washington. Not the 
press, which refused to cover the story. Just coincidentally , their parent 
companies all happened to be lobbying for the bill, (laughter) Not the 
politicians, who were pretty much unanimously in favor of it. And not the 
companies who had all but given up trying to stop it, and decided it was 
inevitable. It was really stopped by the people — the people themselves. 

But it's kind of hard to believe this story — hard to remember how close it all 
came to actually passing. Hard to remember how this could have gone any 
other way. But it wasn't a dream or a nightmare, it was all very real. And it will 
happen again. Sure, it will have yet another name, and maybe a different 
excuse, and probably do its damage in a different way. But make no mistake, 

the enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared. The fire in those 
politicians' eyes hasn't been put out. 

There are a lot of people — a lot of powerful people — who want to clamp 
down on the Internet. And to be honest, there aren't a whole lot who have a 
vested interest in protecting it from all of that. We won this fight because 
everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as 
their job to save this crucial freedom. They threw themselves into it; they did 
whatever they could think of to do. They didn't stop to ask anyone for 
permission. But if we forget that — if we let Hollywood rewrite the story so it 
was just Big Company Google who stopped the bill — if we let them persuade 
us we didn't actually make a difference ~ if we start seeing it as someone 
else's responsibility to do this work, and it's our job just to go home and pop 
some popcorn and curl up on the couch to watch transformers — well, then, 
next time. . . . they might just win. Let's not let that happen. 


WIKLER: Like a lot of people who knew Aaron, one thing I've been doing in the last 
week is going through and reading all the emails we sent back and forth to 
each other. And I found the email he sent me right after he heard about 
COICA, the bill before SOPA and PIPA. He'd heard about it from a friend at 
the EFF, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, (applause) And nobody knew 
about it, and nobody even believed that it was — that it could exist, that it was 
anywhere near as bad as he was saying. And he was asking me to put him in 
touch with some congressional staffers that I knew. And I was kind of 
skeptical of his reading of the bill too — it didn't — like, it seemed like it 
would be a big deal if someone was trying to censor the Internet the way that 
he was talking about, but no one was talking about it. 

By the time I actually responded to his email, he already put up this petition, 
and — taking a page from Frederick Douglass — the page that he put up was 
called, "Demand Progress." And I think by the — it was two days after his first 
email to me; by the time I sent the email to the congressional staffers it had 
already gotten to something like 30,000 signatures on the petition, and it was 
off to the races from there. 

Aaron had dozens of other things going on his life, but he recognized this was 
the most important one, and he turned it into an organization. And to make 
that organization work, he called on a good friend of us — a guy he had 
supported in other political work, who he told me all about — someone he 

thought was a tremendous champion for the kinds of values that we all shared. 
And that person was our next speaker, David Segal, the executive director of 
Demand Progress. 


SEGAL: At Demand Progress, we met Aaron as a genius, of course. That's a word that's 
overused, but not in his case, and I don't know that I've ever actually applied 
it to anybody I knew in real life before. But we didn't get to know him as the 
Boy Genius, or the adolescent genius, that so many others knew, and I really 
wish I'd gotten to know that Aaron, too. I always kind of did, and especially 
so over the course of the last week, and I'm sure others of you want the same. 
The stories have been so glorious and illuminating. So, before I begin, I just 
wanted to mention — this is an aside — that last night, I felt like I got to know 
that part of his life a little bit more deeply when I happened upon a clip that 
WBZ posted of a wonderfully sweet interview with a very high-pitched Aaron 
from 2001 , after he won a prize for MIT. Which, for many of the friends he'd 
met online, was actually an article — it was actually an article about that award 
that first outed him as a 13 -year-old. (laughter) And so I just wanted to very 
much recommend that anybody who cares to look for that. 

I met Aaron through my unsuccessful run for Congress in 2010, when the 
PCCC, one of the many important entities that he founded, endorsed me, and 
he became a fixture at our campaign office. I was in Providence; he was based 
outside of Boston at the time. And he'd help us rig up cheap poles and cheap 
robocalls — things that helped give our uphill effort a fighting chance. And it 
was very hard work, but we got to have some fun then, too — built a personal 
connection; a friendship from the outset. 

I remember one early moment when we realized that we kind of got each other 
in this really strange way — he'd hang out with me during what's known as 
"call time," which is that most despicable part of the modern American 
campaign — four hours a day, during which you call people you've never met 
before, all across the country, and beg them for money. And I wasn't very 
good at this, and I very much appreciated his company. And the frequent line 
that I'd use to open these conversations was, "I hate doing this, and you hate 
getting these calls, so donate to me, and I can fight for public financing so 
nobody ever calls you begging for money again." 

And that would lead to all kinds of discussions about election systems 
arcania, which is the kind of topic that Aaron and I connected around from 

pretty early on. And he's like one of three people in this world with whom one 
can connect around election systems arcania. And it was a fun topic, but it 
wasn't so great for raising money, and I can still picture him... sitting on the 
floor, over there, just giggling with delight and in disbelief during one call 
when I kind of absurdly tried to explain a concept known as Arrow's Theorem 
— this is to a potential hippie-kind-of donor on the other side of the country. 
And I think she did actually contribute... (laughter) 

And I know he was a vegetarian, and so I was thrilled one day when he 
managed to carve out a window admidst yet another 14-hour work day for a 
field trip to my favorite vegan pan- Asian restaurant in Boston — the kind of 
place I like so much that I'd go to it just to get take-out, and then come 
straight home to Providence. And he ordered "bowl of white rice," as he 
famously would. He was a supertaster, he insisted, but I hadn't learned that 
just yet. 

And I'd hoped he might go back some time when he was feeling more 
adventurous; many people whom I've spoken to in recent days expressed a 
particular pleasure in doing things that managed to impress him. Aaron's 
stamp of approval was a precious indication of something's worth, 
something's righteousness. 

That summer, he'd entertain our weary staff with unbelievable stories about 
his exploits. It was with a certain kind of giddiness that he'd talk about 
having outmaneuvered law enforcement during that PACER episode , when he 
downloaded millions of free public files related to Federal court cases, and 
somehow found himself on the wrong side of investigation for "stealing" what 
the government was calling something like two million dollars' worth of 
government property. He'd only recently gotten his hands on his FBI file, and 
loved the Keystone Kops aspects of it — that they couldn't even figure out that 
he lived in Boston, as was widely known, and easy to learn with a quick 
online search, (laughter) He was happiest about the part where they explained 
how they tried to stake out his parents' house in the quiet woods outside of 
Chicago, and it reads: "Details: Attempted to locate Aaron Swartz. His 
vehicles" — and, to be clear, driving was definitely not one of the respects in 
which he was precocious, (laughter) I don't think he ever learned to drive in 
his life. "His driver's license information, and picture, and others at 349 
Marshman Avenue, Highland Park. Drove by address in attempt to locate 
Swartz or vehicles related to the residence, but was unsuccessful. House is set 
on a deep lot behind other houses on Marshman Avenue. This is a heavily- 
wooded, dead-end street with no other cars parked on the road, making 
continued surveillance difficult to conduct without severely increasing the 

risk of discovery." 


Chicago considers this lead covered. You know, it's really, you know, a threat 
to all of us that they were after. And we can laugh about that, in hindsight, but 
had, of course, been terrified throughout that investigation. He told the New 
York Times, "I had this vision of the Feds crashing down the door and just 
taking everything away." And a couple years later, I was with him at his 
apartment in Cambridge a day or two after the Feds had done precisely that. 
And I'm sure he was again terrified inside, even if he'd brush off questions 
with a chuckle about the surreality of it all. 

That work on the congressional campaign quickly transitioned into Demand 
Progress, and Aaron's conception of that initial petition in opposition to 
COICA, calling it "The Internet Blacklist Bill." I remember him calling me up 
after the election was over, and something like, "Segal, you might have lost 
that race," he told me, "But I still need you to help me change the world." And 
we shifted from the halls of the Rhode Island State House, the halls of the 
Congress, and trying to make people care about us and care about the cause, 
and they do now, but back then they absolutely did not. And here, I was going 
to read the. . . the line about stopping SOPA, but he just told that story far 
better than I ever could. 

As, amazingly, the whole planet now knows, Aaron was indeed a passionate 
advocate for access to information and for a free and open Internet. He 
believed in these things for their own sakes, but moreover, as a mean towards 
the even deeper end of building a world defined by social and economic 
justice. As Roy touched on, Aaron was brilliant, but what made him even 
more special was how he resisted the impulse to presume that he alone was 
responsible for his brilliance or should benefit therefrom. He wasn't a techno- 
utopian; perhaps he, at some point, had flirted with that kind of self- affirming, 
Randian objectivism that seems to attract so many of his technologist 
colleagues. But if he ever did, I never heard of it, and he rejected it at a very 
young age. He told me something once, like — and I've been fumbling for 
words. . . the wording over the course of the last week — something like, 
"Segal, you've got to understand. I might be in a bad mood sometimes, might 
seem kind of anti-social or misanthropic. But don't worry — whenever there's 
a problem, I'm always looking for the utility-optimizing solution to 
it." (laughter) And his donation to Give Well is strong evidence of that. 

So he was a sort of communitarian who was deeply aware of our world's 
injustices and who understood the constant struggle that is necessary to even 
begin to remedy them. And he, in part, of course, succumbed to that struggle. 

One of the roles that I've played over the last few days is to try to take all the 
outrage at Aaron's death, and the desire to make it something meaningful — to 
take all of that and to turn it into productive, directed activism. I was in DC on 
the Hill over the last couple of days and all sorts of people want to help — it's 
really amazing. SOPA allies like Ron Wyden, and Zoe Lofgren — both of them 
got to know Aaron personally a bit over the course of the fight. And then even 
right-wingers like Darrel Issa. They all want to know what they can do to help. 

And that would be a much easier thing to answer if Aaron had been a normal 
sort of activist, somebody who cared passionately about just the environment, 
or just gay rights, or any narrow issue, or to — and those are all important 
concerns that he cared about and I care about, but Aaron wanted everything. 
He wanted to change the whole world. He was trying to hack the whole world, 
in the best way. He'd even taken to calling himself an "applied sociologist." 
He had lofty goals, for certain, but he stood more of a chance of realizing them 
than just about anybody else I've ever know. And so it's terribly difficult to 
find a fitting tribute. 

We're calling for investigations; we'll push reforms to computer crime laws; 
we'll try to upturn the criminal justice establishment for him so that what 
happened to him never happens to anybody else ever again... 


But then, none of it feels like enough. 

So, as I close, I want to mention something just so touching and so surprising 
that he told me once, and I hope I'm not betraying his confidence, but it's — 
it's even harder to understand now, and it's been haunting me this week. He 
confessed to me once that he thought that he — and this is an approximate 
quote; this was not very long ago — had never actually achieved anything that 
mattered in his life. He really did say that. And it's evidence of his modesty, 
but it can only possibly begin to make sense when juxtaposed with the 
breadth of everything that he wanted to achieve and probably could have 
achieved. And so it's up to us now to make sure that we might bring some of 
that to fruition, and have it become a part of his legacy. 

So, thank you, and thanks for being here today. 


WIKLER: One problem that Aaron had was this idea that he didn't realize how much he 
mattered. And I would argue with him about it; a lot of those who loved him 
did. He really didn't. . . he didn't feel it, in a way. But the flip-side of that was 
something really beautiful, which was this belief that everybody mattered — 
that everybody mattered just as much as he did. 

One of the things that he was doing in his last couple of years, as he was 
trying to figure out how he could change the world at scale in this gigantic 
way — he was putting a lot of work into improving himself, becoming better at 
life. You can look at his blog — that's some of the last blog posts that he 
wrote, are some beautiful essays about how to be better at life. And one of the 
reasons that he was working so hard at that was our next speaker, Taren. 

Quinn talked about how for years, he wouldn't do any dishes. And all of us are 
stunned that Taren, who was his partner, and with him through the very — very 
end — had gotten him to do dishes, (laughter) And he wasn't not doing dishes 
because he wasn't a good person — I think he was terrified of dishes, (laughter) 
But he found it in himself, he found these ways to push himself, to challenge 
himself to grow, in a way that was deeply inspiring to all of us, who were 
inspired by him in so many other ways. He wasn't the kind of "does the 
dishes" kind of inspiring before, but he was getting there. And I think. . . he 
recognized that part of making the world a much better place was being a 
really good person. 

Taren helped inspire that in him, and she also taught him that by example. I 
feel privileged to have introduced the two of them. Taren 's also one of the 
most amazing activists and advocates that I've ever met, and she was someone 
that inspired Aaron deeply, and someone who Aaron deeply loved. 

Please welcome Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. 

STINEBRICKNER-KAUFFMAN: Aaron would have loved to have been here. There are so 
many people in this room and watching online in whose company he 
delighted. And as much as he didn't like to admit it, he really loved being the 
center of attention sometimes, (laughter) Of the two of us, he should definitely 
be the one on this stage. He loved public speaking; he was so proud of that 
Freedom to Connect speech. He loved storytelling. Aaron, if you want to 

walk right in and take over for me at any point, please do so. . . 

Ira Glass, David Foster Wallace, Louis CK, these were some of the people he 
admired most in the world, consummate storytellers. I remember once last 
year, we took a trip to DC together, just 'cause he'd been invited to speak at 
some techie conference — I don't even remember the name of it. We spent a 
whole day in transit, and with him working on his speech and his PowerPoint, 
just to give a talk to a few dozen programmers about why they should apply 
their skills towards politics. "You can do magic," he told them, with a snap of 
his fingers and a picture of Harry Potter. . . (laughter) . . .for each anecdote he 
told about how programming can make the world a better place. "You can do 
magic," he said. 

Aaron really could do magic. 

Aaron's magic was in asking questions, first and foremost. He often told me 
that he thought the reason he was a fast programmer was because that he was 
just really good at asking Google what the right code snippets were, (laughter) 

Aaron's magic was in asking questions and in believing that the answers were 
not inevitable. Why should for-profit corporations control the world's 
academic research? It's not a question most of us have ever thought to ask, 
despite going through years of university, where we might be reading 
academic research every day. But once you ask it, the answer's obvious: they 

Aaron's magic was that he believed that that, and so much else, could change. 

More than that, he believed that he could change it — that he could change 
the world. And he was right. By last Friday, he'd already changed the world 
in so, so many ways. 

I'm very sad about what happened at many, many levels, and one of them is 
that I'm so sad that we'll never see all the ways he would have changed the 
world from here on out. 

Aaron would have loved to have been here, and have the opportunity to speak 
to all of you. I have to say, though, I'm not sure he would have liked the 
structure of the program, (laughter) He hated ceremony. But memorial 
services are for the living, and Aaron forfeited his right to make that decision 
last Friday . 

He hated ceremony — he hated weddings. I had three weddings to attend last 
summer; he refused to come to any of them, despite liking and knowing all of 
the friends who were getting married, (laughter) He hated ceremony. If he 
were here, he'd be wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and a snarky T-shirt. 

When he surprised me last month with the suggestion we might want to get 
married, he said he'd want a Liz Lemon wedding: long on privacy and love, 
and short on sentimentality and speeches. I said we'd at least have to throw a 
party afterwards. He wasn't convinced, (laughter) I said we should talk about 
it again after the trial. 

The trial. 

The case defined our life together. We started dating in June two years ago, 
just months after his life had been turned upside down by the arrest, but while 
the ordeal was still completely private. He told me there was something going 
on in his life that he didn't want to talk about. He called it, "the bad thing." 

For weeks, I didn't know what it was, just that spending time with me was a 
good distraction for him. I had theories — wild speculation. My top guess for 
a while was that he had had an affair with Elizabeth Warren and was going to 
ruin her career, (laughter, applause) That really was my top guess for a while, 

He called me one night — he was in Cambridge; I was at Frisbee practice in 
DC. He told me that the bad thing might be on the news the next day, and 
asked whether I wanted to hear it from him first. 

I said yes. So he told me he'd been arrested and was being charged with 
downloading too many academic journal articles, (laughter) I was silent 
briefly and then blurted out, "That's all? That doesn't seem like a very big 

He giggled nervously and said, "Well, I guess it's not like anybody has cancer 
or anything." 

I thought about it and called him back a few hours later. "Sorry," I said, "I 
think I might have under-reacted a little bit. I'm sure being arrested and 
prosecuted is very stressful." And he said, "Actually, yours is the most helpful 
reaction anybody's had so far. Please don't change it." 

For a long time we didn't talk about the case very much. He wanted to protect 
me, and he wanted to cordon it off from the rest of his life. He was worried 
that I would be subpoenaed, or that his other friends would be subpoenaed, 
and so he kept it all to himself. He kept all of the stress and the anger and the 
fear to himself. 

We started talking more and more about it over the last few months, as it 
became clear that the government was not going to recognize that this was 
just one big mistake. That Steve Heymann, the prosecutor, who was hell-bent 
on destroying Aaron's life, was not going to come to terms with the notion 
that Aaron was not a threat, that Aaron should not spend years behind bars, 
that Aaron should not be labeled a felon for the rest of his life. 

In December there was a hearing that I went to with him. The trial was delayed 
because another hearing — at this hearing, the decision was made to delay the 
trial until April. And afterwards, I — we came out of the courtroom, and I tried 
to give him a hug, and he pushed me away. And he said, "Not in front of 
Steve Heymann. I don't want to show Steve Heymann that." 

Aaron would have loved to have been here. I'm not sure he would have liked 
me speaking about him this way. Despite his public profile, he was an 
intensely private person in many ways. But memorial services are for the 
living, and last Friday he forfeited his right to decide that. And I think that 
you — his friends, his family, his admirers in the wider world — have a right to 
know what he faced. 

He faced an unfair prosecution by this man, Steve Heymann, who had no 
sense of proportion or justice and just wanted to rack Aaron up as a notch on 
his belt, so that he could go into the cafeteria with the other prosecutors and 
high-five them. 

He faced Carmen Ortiz, a US Attorney, who did nothing to reign Heymann in. 
He faced indifference from MIT, an institution that could have protected him 
with a single public statement and refused to do so, in defiance of all of its 
own most cherished principles. 

And he faced a deeply dysfunctional criminal justice system — one that he is 
far from the only victim of. There are millions of Americans who face the 
kinds of ordeals that he did, most of them with many fewer resources, and 
much less support than he did. 

And last Friday, he faced the prospect of yet another three months of 
uncertainty and ups and downs and being forced by the government to spend 
every fiber of his being on this damnable, senseless trial, with no guarantee 
that he could exonerate himself at the end of it. 

He was so scared, and so frustrated, and so desperate and, more than anything 
else, just so weary. I think he just couldn't take it another day. 

Aaron once told me, early on, when we were trying to navigate a long- 
distance relationship, and I was sort of apologizing for, you know, "I can't 
come to Boston this weekend, but I'd love it if you came to DC, but it's — it's 
okay if you don't want to; I understand if you don't want to." And I think he'd 
had enough of my, sort of, caveats, and said, "Look, I'm not in the habit of 
doing things I don't want to do." (laughter) 

In the end, that independence was one of Aaron's core traits, and part of his 
brilliance. No one could tell him what to do. Unlike most of the world, he 
refused to let social mores funnel him on autopilot into doing things that 
don't make sense. He refused to let establishment conventional wisdom of 
"this is how it's done" stop him from asking the hardest questions. He never 
let his youth define who he was or constrain what he did. And in the end, he 
couldn't allow Steve Heymann and the US Attorney's office to control him 

We now live in a world without Aaron. But the legacy he would have wanted 
to leave is clear. That's why I'm here today. That's why all of you are here 
today. Because I still believe that the world can change, even though Aaron's 
not here to do the changing himself. 

Aaron's last two years were not easy. His death was not easy. And the things 
I'm going to say are not going to be easy. But they are what he believed, and 
if anything good is to come out of his death, they're the lessons we must learn. 

"You can't rest comfortably. You have to think big and think tiny," Aaron 
once said. "The revolution will be A-B tested." Which, I think, is the big — 
the revolution — and the tiny. He wanted to make sure that each small step 
along the way was being done right. 

"You have to recognize that no one knows what they're doing. Other people 
telling you you're doing a good enough job isn't good enough, because they 

don't know what's possible. Seek out people who push you, not just people 
who support you. Look up and not down," Aaron said. 

Aaron didn't believe he was smarter than anyone else, which is hard for — it 
was very hard for me to accept that he really believed that. He really, really 
believed that he was not smarter than anybody else. He just thought he asked 
better questions. He believed that every single person in this room is capable 
of doing as much as he did, if you'd just ask the right questions. 

Whatever you're doing, are you confused? Is there anything that doesn't quite 
make sense about what you're doing? What is it? Never assume that someone 
else has noticed that niggling sense of doubt and already resolved the issue 
for themselves. They haven't. The world does not make sense, and if you 
think it does it's because you're not asking hard enough questions. 

If you're in the tech sector: Why are you there? What do you really believe in? 
If you believe that technology is making the world a better place, why do you 
believe that? Do you really understand what makes the world a bad place to 
begin with? 

I'm serious. If you're in this room and you work in the technology sector, I'm 
asking you that question. Do you understand what makes the world a bad 
place to begin with? Have you ever spent time with and listened to the 
people your technology is supposed to be helping? 

Or the people it might be hurting? 

If you work in social change, how do you know that what you're doing is 
helping the world? When you go to funders or to your email list to ask for 
money, do you really believe in the core of your heart that you're spending it 
the best way it can be spent? Do you find yourself telling stories you don't 
fully believe? 

Aaron believed there's no shame in admitting failure. It's why he loved 
GiveWell, among other things. But there's a deep, deep shame in pride that 
prevents you from admitting failure. There's a deep, deep shame in caring 
more about believing that you're changing the world than actually changing 
the world. 

Aaron would have loved to have been here, because out of the last week and 
out of today, phoenixes are already rising from his ashes. The best possible 

legacy for him is for all of us to go out from here today and do everything we 
can to make the world a better place. 

A thousand flowers are blooming in his name already. Some of the most 
important. . . that we'll be fighting for — David Segal and many others of us — 
are organizing around — the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts must be 
held accountable for its actions . 


MIT must ensure that it's never complicit in another event like this. 


All academic research, from all time, should be made public and free and open 
and available to anybody in the world. 

(applause, cheering) 

We must strengthen and pass Aaron's Law, which would amend the CFAA to 
make sure the prosecutors don't have this kind of discretion over computer 
crimes in the future. 


And we need fundamental reform to our criminal justice system. 


Aaron would have loved to be here, but he wouldn't have liked that I'm going 
to end with a poem, (laughter) Aaron didn't like poetry; he said it was too 
intense for him. I sent him a poem I had written — not for him, but that I'd 
written previously — to him a few weeks into our relationship, and he never 
read it, despite my asking. He said he thought it would be too — too hard. 

But memorial services are for the living, and last Friday, he forfeited his right 
to decide that. 

This poem a friend sent me has touched me in a way that few other things 
have in the last eight days. It's called, "When Great Trees Fall," by Maya 


When great trees fall, 

rocks on distant hills shudder, 

lions hunker down 

in tall grasses, 

and even elephants 

lumber after safety. 

When great trees fall 

in forests, 

small things recoil into silence, 

their senses 

eroded beyond fear. 

When great souls die, 

the air around us becomes 

light, rare, sterile. 

We breathe, briefly. 

Our eyes, briefly, 

see with 

a hurtful clarity . 

Our memory, suddenly sharpened, 


gnaws on kind words 


promised walks 

never taken. 

Great souls die and 

our reality, bound to 

them, takes leave of us. 

Our souls, 

dependent upon their 


now shrink, wizened. 

Our minds, formed 

and informed by their 

radiance , 

fall away. 

We are not so much maddened 

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance 

of dark, cold 


And when great souls die, 
after a period peace blooms, 
slowly and always 
irregularly. Spaces fill 
with a kind of 
soothing electric vibration. 
Our senses, restored, never 
to be the same, whisper to us. 

They existed. 
They existed. 
We can be 
Be, and be better 
for they existed. 


WIKLER: We have reached the end of this moment. I hope it's clear this is just the 

beginning of everything that we have to do. After this, lights come back on, 
please take a moment to introduce yourselves to the people around you. I 
think that we're all going to be working together. And as the lights come on, 
I'd just like to ask for another round of applause for Taren, and for all the 
speakers who've been so great. 


"Down by the riverside, down by the riverside, down by the riverside..." 

transcribed by @Dicey Troop from a personal audio recording, completed 1/25/13 


version 1.1: fixed embarrassing typo and random instance of COMDEX